DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not contain any spoilers for the actual show Game of Thrones.
In case you hadn’t heard, George R.R. Martin, the author of the widely acclaimed A Song of Ice and Fire book series that has been adapted into the world famous HBO series Game of Thrones has announced that he will be creating an encyclopedia of sorts, consisting of the details you may or may not wish to know for your immersion into his sprawling world.
Putting aside how blatantly time-wasting such an act is, the fact that he has a fan base large enough and talented enough to do most of that work for him, the fact that he should be focusing his greater attention on actually continuing and finishing the book series that he has been working on since 1996, the fact that he’s getting old and his health isn’t getting any better – which means that he’s working against the clock, and the fact that as a producer and writer for the HBO series he helped create he hasn’t demonstrated that he has the proper discipline to work even within the flexible confines of time that the show is giving him…I thought that I’d spend a majority of this post actually giving you the information you may be interested in.
So let’s get to it.
Last year, I was teaching myself how to use Microsoft Visio and I decided that a good exercise would be to recreate the present day houses of Westeros. One thing led to another and this little nerd made full PDFs of all the main families. So I’ve uploaded them to imgur and linked them here. You’ll find the words of each house there too. And if you’d like me to send you them, give me your email address and I’ll happily do so.
Take a gander.
NOTE: These family charts are as they are at the very beginning of the show.
For starters, get yourself acquainted with a political map of Westeros. This one is as good as any. Open it up in a separate window and put it alongside this post. Don’t worry about the Eastern Continent for now.
Before you even start looking at the details, you might notice that Westeros looks like a mirror image of England. The first thing you should know about GRRM is that he generally does not dabble in coincidences.
Westeros is Seven Kingdoms that at the present day is united into one. If you counted nine, don’t worry – you’re not crazy. The Crownlands were never a kingdom but disputed territory between the Riverlands and Stormlands mainly. And the Riverlands and the Iron Islands were part of the same kingdom. For the record, England was also a heptarchy.
Make a note of the capitals in each region. They’re in white boxes.
As you look over the map, do you see anything you recognize? A few items to make note of:
- Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish comes from land called “The Fingers”. You’ll find it just north of the Vale.
- Not far from Winterfell is a place called Torrhen’s Square, which is mentioned in the second season.
- The Red Fork is located in the Riverlands, just south of the Trident. Southeast of the Red Fork is the “God’s Eye”. It isn’t labeled, but it’s the lake with the Island of Faces right in the middle of it. Tywin Lannister mentions these two areas in the last episode of the first season.
- The Kingswood, just south of King’s Landing is where King Robert likes to go hunting.
- In the North, Karhold, near the Grey Cliffs is where House Karstark is seated. And the Dreadfort, just south of the Lonely Hills is where House Bolton sits.
- The city of White Harbor, right on the northern tip of The Bite (it isn’t marked) is where House Manderly sits. At this point in the show, you haven’t met them yet. All you really need to know right now is that Wyman Manderly is really fat.
- In Lannisport, south of Casterly Rock, you’ll find Clegane’s Keep. House Clegane is noteworthy for its two brothers: Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. Their sigil is three dogs on a yellow field.
“In the name of **********, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm…”
The history of Westeros can essentially be broken down into four major events – three of which I’m going to talk about below.
The Arrival of the First Men
Over 12,000 years ago, the First Men arrived in Westeros from the eastern continent (Essos). They walked across a land bridge (that no longer exists) into Dorne. Well that sounds more than a little familiar.
They spread across the kingdoms and encountered the native species known as the Children of the Forest. To cultivate land, the First Men cut down trees – many of which were sacred to the Children. The result was a series of conflicts between the two races. The Children had magic. The First Men had technology and the ability to cut down the trees that were a source of the Children’s magic. Guess who won.
It ended with a pact that created an age of peace, harmony, and integration for 4,000 years. It was known as the Age of Heroes. The First Men adopted the religion of the Children. In the present day, that religion is referred to as “The Old Gods”.
They created the tradition of hospitality – hosts would offer food to their guests and once their guests had eaten, they would be given full protection. They also ruled that the man who passes a sentence of execution shall be the one who swings the sword – for if the man cannot do such a thing, it may be a sign that the culprit deserves to live.
The First Men (namely Brandon “The Builder” Stark) built The Wall – a 700 foot ice structure in the North to ensure the survival of their civilizations from the monsters, creatures, and others. In case you’re wondering, yes, this is Hadrian’s Wall.
The Coming of the Andals
6,000 years after the First Men landed, Westeros was invaded by another race of humans from the east. Descended from the Hills of Andalos, the Andals worshipped “The Seven Gods”. Believing themselves to be blessed by their gods, they invaded the West, landing in the Fingers. Their crusade subdued the entire southern half of Westeros. The First Men held them at Moat Callain time and time again until the Andals gave up. The Andals converted their new empire to the Faith of the Seven.
The First Men retained the North, which is why in the present day, the customs that I described above are still in play. The Faith of the Seven is also commonly referred to as “The New Gods”.
To their kingdoms, the Anglo-Sax…I mean the Andals brought their language which became the Common Tongue even in the north. They also introduced the custom of writing on parchment instead of runes.
Thousands of years in shaping out the lands formed the Seven Kingdoms. They were:
- The North (House Stark)
- The Vale (House Arryn)
- The Riverlands & Iron Islands (House Hoare)
- The Westerlands (House Lannister)
- The Reach (House Gardener)
- The Stormlands (House Durrendon)
- Dorne (House Nymeros Martell)
Then 300 years ago, everything changed.
Aegon the Conqueror
Rhaenys, Aegon, Visenya
In the kingdom of Valyria, there was an apocalyptic event whose specific nature is unknown but resulted in its downfall of the city (Atlantis?). The ruling family – House Targaryen left just over a decade before the event and thus survived. The coming of age head of the house was Aegon I. It’s not quite known why he decided to conquer the west. My theory is that his boredom and ambition got the better of him.
Aegon, with his two sister wives (seriously) Rhaenys & Visenya, and his best friend/future lieutenant Orys Baratheon planned the invasion for years. When they came, they landed in what is now known today as King’s Landing.
They first went northwest to the Riverlands and Iron Islands. King Harren “The Black” Hoare holed up in his fortress of Harrenhal. Aegon burned him with his dragons and hounded the kingdom until Vickon Greyjoy and Edmyn Tully swore fealty to him. Aegon made them the lords of the Iron Islands and the Riverlands respectively.
Aegon carved out the entire middle of Westeros for himself and then went south. Orys took Storm’s End for himself and Aegon gave him lordship over the Stormlands. The West and the Reach allied against Aegon – numbering over five times Aegon’s force but Aegon beat them anyway with his dragons. King Loren Lannister surrendered to him and was allowed to retain Casterly Rock and his lordship over the West. King Mern of House Gardener was dead so Aegon gave lordship of the Reach to House Tyrell, which was the first family to surrender to him.
The Starks in the North invaded the South but Aegon stopped them at the Trident. When King Torrhen Stark saw Aegon’s force (and his dragons), he surrendered. So Aegon allowed him to keep Winterfell and his family’s lordship of the North. The Vale surrendered soon afterwards and House Arryn remained in charge.
With six of the seven kingdoms conquered, Aegon had his sister Rhaenys invade Dorne. The Dornish never met him on the field. They used guerilla tactics – hitting supply lines, ambushing regiments, abandoning their strongholds, and scorching the earth. It worked. Aegon couldn’t take it and so he withdrew, and thus was the origin of House Martell’s words: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”
Aegon spent the rest of his life modernizing his kingdom and preparing his family to rule. He built King’s Landing and made it the new capitol city. He created the Red Keep and the office of the Hand of the King (the first of which was Orys Baratheon). He melted the swords of those who opposed him and built the Iron Throne. He created the Kingsguard – Westeros’ equivalent of the Secret Service. He converted himself and his family to the New Gods, winning the support and blessing of the Faith of the Seven.
Yes: Aegon the Conqueror is Alexander and Peter the Great.
The last thing you should know is that House Martell eventually bent the knee and integrated with the rest of Westeros. But they were never conquered. It was an alliance with the Targaryens that was spurned from politics and friendship.
I’m going to choose not to go into the details of Robert’s Rebellion 19 years before the events of Game of Thrones because the show does a good job in explaining it and because it would dangerously tread the spoiler-line (details of said event may or may not be relevant to the present).
That’s it for now. There’s obviously a lot more that I could write about but I think I’ve covered the basics. You can use this as a reference for anyone who wants to get into the show or just wants to learn more about it. Another time I’ll probably write more about certain moments in history, major figures, the religion, the magic, the lands to the east and the north, etc.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or send me an email, Tweet, or Facebook message. If the answer to that question contains a spoiler, rest assured that I’ll warn you first. 🙂